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The Brain Barrier

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Close Encounters Of The God Kind

The Brain Barrier

Mark 7:1-13

In 1976 four men, including a pair of twins, sought adventure in the Allagash Wilderness of northern Maine.  What they saw and experienced that night changed their lives forever.  Not one, but all four alleged that they were abducted by strange alien beings.  This incident ranks as one of the most compelling abduction accounts because it is supported by multiple witnesses.  Highly respected ufologist, Raymond Fowler, has written a book called The Allagash Abductions, which is composed largely of interview transcripts with the four men, along with sketches of what they claim to have experienced.  Fowler methodically explores the simultaneous abductions of four men and provides overwhelming and compelling evidence that would stand up in court!  This incident was dramatized on “Unsolved Mysteries.”

        Whether you believe in these kinds of “Close Encounters” or not, you must admit that anyone who claims to have had one is changed forever!

We are presently involved in a series of messages entitled:  “Close Encounters Of The God Kind.”  This title is taken from one of the most spectacular UFO science fiction films of all times.  It was entitled:  “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

        In this series, we are studying close encounters with God, by likening them to close encounters with UFO’s.  When a person has a close encounter with a UFO, it is an experience that changes that person’s life forever.  Likewise, when a person has a close encounter with the Jehovah God, it is an experience that changes that person’s life forever.

This series comes at a very crucial time in our society.  We live in a Postmodern society that is very spiritual.  People are consulting Eastern mysticism, amulets, crystals, etc.  They want a spiritual experience.  But, they will never have a true spiritual experience, until they have an encounter with the Holy Spirit.  We use to witness by starting with a need and moving to the Gospel.  Now, we would probably be more effective by starting with people’s spirituality, and then showing them how to find deeper spirituality in Christ.

The same is true for believers. We have been impacted by the attitude of the age, as well as the move of God, and we want to have an encounter or experience with the true and living God.

        In the first sermon in this series, we defined “A Close Encounter Of The God Kind.

        In that first sermon, we also defined worship as ascribing or attributing to God the worth that He is due, and we talked about encountering God and experiencing that encounter.

        In the second sermon, we dealt with the phrase “a genuine response of worship.”  We defined “a genuine response of worship” as “wholehearted worship.” “Wholehearted worship” is a genuine response of worship that encompasses all of one’s body, soul, and spirit; i.e. all of one’s heart, soul, mind, and strength; i.e. all of ones inner life and all of one’s physical vitality and energy.

        In the last sermon, we discussed how people are changed forever through “a genuine response of worship” to a preaching encounter, which will cause them to move and grow through the over-recording of the intuitive tapes of their core beliefs.  Yes, you will need a tape of that message.

        In the last sermon, we completed the definition of “A Close Encounter Of The God Kind,” which we will use throughout the remainder of this series.  It is as follows:

A “Close Encounter Of The God Kind” is a face-to-face meeting with God that cannot be totally explained, but which—when fully experienced—will bring about a response of genuine worship or celebration, which includes the remembrance of a redemptive past and/or the conviction of a liberated future that changes people forever; causing them to move and grow by over-recording the intuitive tapes of their core belief.

        All right!  We have a good working definition of “A Close Encounter Of The God Kind.”  We have also touched upon the fact that God initiates these close encounters.  We may initiate them in a way, after God has already initiated them, but God is really the Initiator.  So, the question is, “Why don’t we just experience these close encounters, respond with celebration, and see the dynamic change of God in our lives?”

Well, I believe there is something blocking these close encounters.  There is a very prominent and specific barrier to having a close encounter with God.  That is what I want to talk about today!

If you have been at this church for the last five to ten years, you have heard me discuss this barrier before.  I have talked about it, at various times and in various ways.  But I believe that this will seem like new material to many of us, because when the Spirit gives us ears to hear, we hear far differently than when we are trying to hear in our own power.

To begin to identify this barrier, let’s go to the Word of God.  I would like for you to turn with me to Mark 7:1-13.  Let me read this aloud for us.

        The two groups involved here are the Pharisees and the scribes.  The Pharisees were the largest and most influential religious-political party of the Jews during New Testament times.  The Pharisees were religious and they were legalistic.  They believed that keeping the law entitled them to unique national privileges with God.  Therefore, their whole system of religion evolved into 613 laws designed to keep them from breaking the law.

        The scribes were Pharisees who were considered experts in the Law of Moses.  They mystified the law and made it difficult to understand.

        These Pharisees and scribes gathered around Jesus and began to question Him as to why some of His disciples ate with impure hands; i.e. they had not cleansed their hands with the customary ceremonial washing.  This group wanted to know why the disciples were not keeping the traditions of the elders.  It is in this context that Jesus makes the statement that we want to work with.  This statement is made in

Mark 7:6-7, “And He said to them, ‘Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far away from me.  But in vain do they worship me, Teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”’”

What is Jesus saying to these Pharisees and scribes?  Well, Jesus is actually quoting Isaiah 29:13, which is about the judgment of Jerusalem, and applying it to the Pharisees and the scribes.  He is saying that they missed the essence of true worship, and He tells them why.  The people were honoring God with their lips, but not with their hearts!

(Now exactly what is Jesus saying?)

Honoring God with their lips was only partially honoring God, because the lips are only a portion of a person—not the totality or core of the person.  The word for heart here is kardiaKardia is the inner life, the center of the personality and the place in which God reveals Himself to men.  Kardia is the intellect, emotion, and will.  Jesus is contrasting the lips with the heart.  The lips were only a part of the person, while the heart represented whole person.  God only accepts honor or worship that involves the whole heart or the whole person!  Mark that down!  Pray about it!  Ask God to reveal the truth of it to you!  Then receive the truth by faith!  It is one of the little known, little understood, and yet most important truths in the Bible!

This was demonstrated in the life of Judas.  Judas was evil in his heart.  Judas could honor Jesus with his lips, but his heart was far from Jesus.  The Bible tells us about Judas in

Matthew 26:48, “Now he who was betraying Him gave them a sign, saying, ‘Whomever I shall kiss, He is the one; seize Him.’  And immediately he went to Jesus and said, ‘Hail, Rabbi!’ and kissed Him.”

The greeting, “Hail, Rabbi!” was one of blessing, but it was not in keeping with what was in the heart of Judas.  The word “hail” means “be cheerful, or be happy, or God’s speed.”  The word “Rabbi” was “a title meaning, ‘my master,’ applied to teachers and others of an exalted and revered position.  During the New Testament period, the term rabbi came to be more narrowly applied to one learned in the Law of Moses” (Holman Bible Dictionary).  Jesus was called “Rabbi” by other disciples.

        Judas said, more literally, “I bid you God’s speed my Master,” but his words were the prelude to betraying Christ.  He honored Jesus with His lips, but his heart was far from Him.

One scholar said, “When men are natural, heart and mouth act in concert, but otherwise the mouth sometimes professes what the heart does not feel” (Plummer).  Jesus is saying that worship requires every part of their inner being, i.e. thoughts, feelings, and choices, not just their words.

How many people, this very morning, fill the churches of America and sing and mouth words that are far from their hearts?  How many people, this very morning, are here in this church singing with us and shouting God’s praises, but their hearts are far from Jesus.  Their hearts are still at the bar last night; still selfishly seeking their own interests; still willing to sell Jesus out for a raise or promotion; singing “I surrender all,” but won’t give ten percent this morning; saying “Hallelujah,” which means “Praise ye Jehovah!” but don’t read their Bibles or pray outside of this room.

(All right, back to the text.)

        Jesus goes on to say that the Pharisees worshipped Him in vain, or to no purpose, and one of the tip-offs was what they did with God’s commandments.  Those who genuinely love and worship God keep His commandments, but these Pharisees had replaced the commandments of God with the commandments of men.

Oh, how often this goes on today!  How many have replaced God’s commandments with their own commandments in the area of praise and worship with thoughts and statements like “I understand what the Bible says about praise and worship, but I don’t believe it takes all of that!”; in the area of giving, which is also worship; in the area of human sexuality; in the area of abortion; in the area of marriage, divorce, and remarriage; and I could go on and on.

(So, what are you trying to say Pastor Joey?)

        The worship of the Pharisees was not “wholehearted.”  Their lips were in keeping with their religious tradition, but not in keeping with the totality or the core of their hearts.  In a sense, they were offering half-hearted worship to God.  Any worship that is not wholehearted is in vain or to no purpose!  There are numerous Scriptures in the Bible that confirm what is being stated here:  God does not accept half-hearted worship!

(Now I mentioned that there is a barrier to “wholehearted” worship or a “Close Encounter Of The God Kind.”  What is that barrier?)

        Let’s call this barrier:  “The Brain Barrier.”  What is “The Brain Barrier?”  “The Brain Barrier” is the American, Greek influenced tendency to separate and exalt the intellect above the emotions.  American’s intently want to use their brains, not their hearts.  When I use the word “brains,” I am using it to denote intellect, reasoning, and thinking of the brain, as opposed to the emotional, intuitive, spiritual aspects of the heart.  I am using the word “brains” like we use the word head.  It is the contrast of the head versus the heart.  Where the heart represents thoughts and feelings.

        Even though in America we tend to think of the brain as the organ of intellect, and the heart as being in our chests or somewhere in space, the brain is also the organ of the heart.

        It is generally accepted in the scientific community that the brain is composed of two hemispheres.  The left hemisphere has more to do with rational thought and the right hemisphere has more to do with the thought of the intuitive.  “The two hemispheres of the brain are connected by a four-inch-long, quarter-inch-thick, pencil-shaped bundle of nerve fibers called the corpus callosum.”[1]  The corpus callosum integrates information from the two sides of the brain.

        “The Brain Barrier” has to do with the preference of thought to emotion, reasoning to intuition, the intellectual to the spiritual, etc.

·        This is a Western mindset versus the Eastern mindset.

·        This is the Greek mindset versus the Hebrew mindset.

·        This is the American mindset versus the biblical mindset.

There is scientific evidence that this preference is not only personal, but may be a general impact upon our brains.  “In 1970, Ornstein published a book entitled The Psychology of Consciousness.  In it, he set forth the message that Western men and women have been using only half of their brains and, hence, only half of their mental capacity.  He noted that the emphasis on language and logical thinking in Western societies has ensured that the left hemisphere is well exercised.  He went on to argue that the functions of the right hemisphere are a neglected part of human abilities and intellect and that such functions are more developed in the cultures, mysticism, and religions of the East.”[2]  The implications here are far-reaching.  The right hemispheres of our American brains may not be developed enough to really entertain certain aspects of the Bible!

This problem not only manifests itself when we read the Old Testament, but also the New Testament.  With the influence of the Greeks and Romans and the writing of the New Testament in Greek, plus the New Testament being a codification of doctrine, the intellect and will play a bigger role in the New Testament, but still the heart is very prominent.  The Bible, written by Spirit-controlled men from the East, basically Israelites, emphasizes the heart not just the intellect.  Therefore, I believe that many of us read the Bible, which is basically written from a right hemisphere perspective through our left hemispheres.

        By now some of you are saying, “So what?”  Well, what I am trying to help us understand is the possibility that worship, which is an intuitive/right hemisphere concept and activity, may be hard to understand—much less participate in—by Americans whose right hemispheres may be underdeveloped!

“The Brain Barrier” causes people to try to worship God with their intellects alone.  This attempt to worship God with our intellects alone short-circuits genuine worship.  Why?  Because worship cannot be entered into with the intellect alone, or the emotions alone for that matter, or the lips alone, but with the whole inner life of the person.  Worship is “wholehearted!”  As a matter of fact, it is, in the expanded definition of “wholehearted,” with all that one is, i.e. spirit, soul, and body.

So, in a very real sense, many people, particularly people at The House of the Lord, are not coming to church with all that they are to worship God, but primarily with their intellects to dissect the propositions and truth of the message and the Word of God.  We want to have worship class, rather than a worship encounter and experience.

Let’s go back to our quote from the book entitled:  They Like To Never Quit Praisin’ God, by Frank Thomas.  Discussing the difference between thinking about something and experiencing it he writes:

“Convinced of the power of experience and emotional process over intellectual knowledge and cognitive assent (to facilitate celebration in a sermon that will change people forever), I began to reflect upon the difference between thinking about something and experiencing it.  What is traditionally known as ‘thinking’ usually involves a significant emotional and physical distance from a thing; one objectifies what one is thinking about, separates oneself and one’s body from it, and dissects it for clarification and analysis.”[3]

Did you get that?

·        Thinking usually involves significant emotional and physical distance.

We tend to emotionally separate ourselves from something that we are thinking about.  We tend to physically stand back from any person or object that we are thinking about.

·        One objectifies what one is thinking about.

We separate ourselves, i.e. our personalities, which means we keep the integration of our thoughts and feelings from the person or thing we are thinking about.

        We separate our bodies from the person or thing we are thinking about.  We withdraw and say, “I just need some time to think.”  I have taught and still maintain, that when there is difficulty between two people who have an intimate relationship they move towards each other by spontaneously, but carefully sharing both thoughts and feelings; you move away from each other by too much processing of thoughts before sharing.

    We dissect what we are thinking about for clarification and analysis.

        Worship is not being emotionally distant from God, but emotionally close to God.

        Worship is not being physically distant from God, but physically close to God.  Hence the atmosphere of the church.

        Worship is not separating ourselves, i.e. our thoughts and feelings from God, but joining our thoughts, feelings, and volition to His divine intuition (the ability to know without the conscious use of reasoning), communion (the emotional aspect of God, which manifests itself in relationship), and conscience (the ability to know and decide rightly, without the conscious use of reason).  Worship is not head to head, but heart to heart!!!

        Worship is not separating our bodies from God, but offering up our bodies as a living sacrifice and giving him the wave offerings, prostration, clapping of the hands, etc. that He deserves.

        Worship is not dissecting the doctrines and truths of the Word of God for clarification and analysis, but encountering and experiencing the Truth of the Word of God:  Jesus Christ!

        Worship is not a class, but an encounter with and experience of the true and living God with all of one’s faculties!  This is “wholehearted worship.”  This is “A Close Encounter of the God Kind.’

        By the way, if we want to have worship class instead of a worship experience, we should redesign the worship center.  Now part of it is already designed improperly.  It is designed like a classroom where we have a leader who stands in front of us and above us.  While this is necessary in larger churches, it tends to facilitate a classroom like atmosphere.  William Seymour, the father of Pentecostalism, stood in the middle of the congregation, on the same level as the congregation, with seats on all sides.  This was to facilitate the ministry of the Holy Spirit through one another ministry.

(But there are other things that we should still do to further facilitate a worship class atmosphere, instead of a worship encounter.)

We should get rid of the pews and put in desks.  That would certainly help!

We should do away with religious icons and symbols that engender concepts like hope, and replace them with books—i.e. we should make this a library.

We should get rid of the instruments and singing, because producing instrumental music and singing involve the left and right hemispheres of our brains and combines logic with emotion.

We should do away with the Spirit-filled sermon, which is an experience around the Word of God combining the heart of the pastor, the heart of the people, and the heart of God!  Instead, we should pass out voluminous notes for cognitive learning.

We should give a lot of tests to evaluate the cognitive learning that is going on in the environment, and those tests should determine the membership and maturity of the congregation.

I could go on and on.  The point is:  the whole setting of the church is designed for worship, not for mere educational instruction!!!

But “The Brain Barrier” short-circuits the worship experience!  When we begin to analyze the Word of God, which means to break up into its constituent parts, instead of encountering the Word of God with our thoughts, feelings, and wills, experience is short-circuited and worship is aborted!

        We have that badly at The House of the Lord.  I call it “The Paralysis of Analysis.”

·        Too much analysis will paralyze an encounter with God!

·        Too much analysis will paralyze an experience with God!

·        Too much analysis will paralyze worship!

·        Too much analysis will paralyze any relationship or fellowship.

It is at this point that people really misunderstand my thrust, which is the thrust of the Bible.  They begin to think that I am lobbying for them to throw away their intellect and move into emotionalism.  But that is exactly what I don’t want you to do.  There is middle ground, which is also biblical ground.  I want you to do what Thomas calls “experiential thinking.”  I want you to “experientially think about the Word of God.”  I want you to use your intellect and your emotions, but I want your emotions to be dominant, which is the definition of the predominant Hebrew word used for heart.  I want you to experience the Word of God and the God of the Word, at an emotional level, with your thinking acting as a shutoff valve against anything that would be unreasonable or unseemly.  I would not suggest for one moment that you can or ought to experience anything without your intellect!!!

Let me finish Thomas’ quote:

“This is not to suggest that thinking is not a critical part of the experiential process, but rational thinking does not dominate the process to force abstraction and emotional distance.  It is difficult to have an experience of something without thinking, but thinking that is experiential involves the emotions and the body, de-emphasizing the rigid posture of abstraction, objectification, physical separation, and emotional distance.  Experiential thinking operates from the perspective of what we might call ‘emotional objectivity.’  We have not looked at this possibility much in this culture, but it is possible to involve one’s emotions and body and still be objective.”[4]

Now we have a balance!  Too little emotion can short-circuit experience and worship, but too much emotion can do the same thing.

·        Too little emotion deadens the atmosphere and turns the worship experience into a worship class.

·        Too much emotion charges the atmosphere and turns the worship experience into the emotionalism of a worship circus!

        This is a problem of balance, and the answer to this problem is the baptism with or filling of the Holy Spirit.  I believe that balance is an important concept of the Bible and Christianity.  Furthermore, I believe that being led by the Spirit will produce balance in one’s life.

(I would think an immediate and important question might be, “How do we develop the right hemispheres of our brains?”)

        Some of the latest researchers believe that culture has a lot to do with brain function.  And that the choice of intellectual mechanisms that we use to solve problems also impacts brain function.  We could deduce that the choice of biblical values and culture over American values and culture could have an impact on brain function.  As we choose and seek to understand and practice the Bible, we are causing our right hemispheres to function and develop!

By the way, let me state the most important way to develop our right hemispheres and our ability to deal with biblical concepts that are intuitive and spiritual:  to be baptized with or filled with the Holy Spirit!  The Holy Spirit fills or controls our human spirit.  As far as I can tell, our human spirit resides in our right hemispheres or in the ability of our left and right hemispheres to work together.  In our right hemispheres are the operations of the intuition and spirituality.  As the Holy Spirit fills our right hemispheres, i.e. our human spirits, our human spirits will control our hearts or personalities, i.e. our thoughts, emotions, and choices, which will control our bodies, rendering us capable of “wholehearted worship” and an encounter with the true and living God!

Twenty years ago the “brain barrier” kept me from experiencing what God had for me, but God has destroyed that barrier and set me free in His Spirit.

        “Lord, remove our ‘brain barrier,’ because we want to have a close encounter with You!”

(Now is the day of Salvation.  Come to Jesus, Now!)


Call to Discipleship


[1] Richard Restak, The Brain, Bantam Books, New York, New York, 1984, p. 245.

[2] Sally P. Springer and George Deutsch, Left Brain, Right Brain, W. H. Freeman and company, New York, New York, 1981, p. 286.

[3] Frank A. Thomas, They Like To Never Quit Praisin’ God, United Church Press, Cleveland, Ohio, p. 36.

[4] Frank A. Thomas, They Like To Never Quit Praisin’ God, United Church Press, Cleveland, Ohio, p. 36.

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